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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 30,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `The Dinner Party’
Why does Neil Simon’s play, "The Dinner Party,"
seem more likable at Paper Mill than it did on Broadway? The answer
is the cast.
Although the cast for the Broadway production included such
entertainers as Henry Winkler and John Ritter, they were not only
poorly cast as Simon’s Parisians, but displayed a reckless disregard
for anything that might be called characterization.
Now, with the help of more carefully selected cast, I am suddenly
looking at Simon’s play with new eyes. It is no masterpiece, but it
can now be seen as an amusingly bittersweet entertainment, filled
with lilting dialogue and a genuine point of view. The reason Simon
chose the French as subjects for his play never becomes clear, unless
he thinks that three divorced American couples are less prone to
the regrets, pain, and pleasures of their private lives at a dinner
For there is nothing notable or noticeably French in manner or tone
of the six characters who arrive, one by one, at a posh Parisian
to which they have been invited. Yet we can accept at face value that
they are neither Chinese nor Eskimos. Indeed, the six actors are so
superior in every way to the original Broadway cast that I would
accept them as Chinese or Eskimos, if the script demanded it.
Even in the light of Simon’s most recent effort, "45 Seconds From
Broadway," which has just closed after a brief Broadway run,
Dinner Party," despite its relatively successful run last season,
is still not destined to be placed near the top of the playwright’s
canon. Although "The Dinner Party" lasts only about 100
(without intermission), it contains much that is rueful as well as
funny about why marriages fail.
Within designer John Lee Beatty’s very pretty evocation of a private
dining salon, all six divorcees are on call to expose and exorcise
the personal demons that soured their marriages. First to arrive is
Claude Pichon (Greg Mullavey), an antiquarian with a condescending
air. He is soon followed by Albert Donay (Michael Mastro), a dopey
proprietor of a car-rental agency. That they don’t know each other,
or seem to have any shared social connections, is further confounded
when they realize that their dinner invitations have come from the
divorce lawyer they share in common.
Things get more uncomfortable with the arrival of Andre Bouville
Vinovich), an arrogant stiff-necked clothing manufacturer, who also
used the same divorce lawyer. His overt disdain for the other two
men is nothing compared to the reactions to the women who begin to
Claude’s ex-wife Mariette Levieux (Elizabeth Heflin) is the first
of the three women, a stylish and attractive writer of pulp fiction,
who apparently had a short post-divorce fling with Andre. She paves
the way for Yvonne Fouchet (Catherine Lloyd Burns), Albert’s
timid and tense ex-wife. Last to arrive is Andre’s ex-wife Gabrielle
Buonocelli (Meg Foster), whom we discover is the evening’s
and whose secret agenda is supposed to be the raison d’etre for this
unsettling little soiree.
Mullavey, a veteran of 70 plays, does well as the insufferably stiff
Claude who earns our empathy and our laughs when his sexual fantasies
are revealed. Mastro, who was praised for his Broadway performances
in "Judgment at Nuremberg" and "Side Man," gets high
marks for the hilariously off-centered countenance he sustains as
the overly attentive husband who ruined his marriage with too much
love. Vinovich, an alumnus of Simon’s "Lost in Yonkers," is
excellent as the mean-spirited Andre. Both Heflin, as the
and successful novelist, and Burns as the ditsy Yvonne, are delightful
portrayals. Although more familiar for her film and television roles,
Foster is not only convincing as a glamorous seductress, but gives
a centering force to the production.
The play unfolds as each couple gets a chance to face each other with
the facts and feelings that presumably led to their breakup. I won’t
spoil it by noting the various revelations and regrets, except to
say that while none of it sociologically or psychologically profound,
it will give you pause to reflect on your own marriage — or
What is remarkable is that all that was previously stilted and posy
in performance on Broadway has become brisk and bright under the
of John Rando, who also directed the Broadway production. It all goes
to show what a difference a cast can make.
— Simon Saltzman
973-376-4343. $29 to $59. Performances continue to February 10.
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